Edmonton

Carding critics welcome Alberta-wide consultations on street checks

An Edmonton group helping to lead the fight against police carding is welcoming the Alberta government's plan to consult with dozens of organizations about introducing new guidelines for street checks.

Police chiefs association sees no need for new regulations related to street checks

Bashir Mohamed of Black Lives Matter Edmonton has repeatedly called for a ban on arbitrary stops and the collection of personal information from people not suspected of crimes. (John Shypitka/CBC)

An Edmonton group helping to lead the fight against police carding is welcoming the Alberta government's plan to consult with dozens of organizations about introducing new guidelines for street checks.

But the president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police is questioning why more rules are needed.

As CBC first reported Thursday, Alberta Justice announced the launch of provincewide community consultations to get feedback about street checks, also known as carding.

Outside police headquarters later, Bashir Mohamed with the Black Lives Matter Edmonton group, described the move as long overdue and a "good, first step."

Mohamed stressed his group is not opposed to interactions between police and community members. But he repeated the call for a ban on arbitrary stops and the collection of personal information from people not suspected of crimes.

Other 'ways to build friendships'

"So that's what we want to end," said Mohamed, 22, a recent graduate from the University of Alberta. "We still want police to talk to people. We will want them to do community engagement."

"There's ways to build friendships without asking for people's ID," said Mohamed, who suggested future regulations must be accompanied by enforcement.

Black Lives Matter is among about 100 organizations that will be consulted about street checks across Alberta over roughly a six-week period, starting Monday. Native Counselling Services of Alberta, the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, victims services agencies, and crime prevention groups are also on the list, as are municipal and lawyer associations.

The Alberta government will use the feedback to craft a draft guideline, and will then seek further input before any rules are finalized.

In June, a CBC investigation that included police street check documents obtained under a freedom of information request showed Indigenous and black people were disproportionately stopped and documented by Edmonton police in random non-criminal encounters.

Black Lives Matter, which released similar data independently, said the figures provided evidence of racial profiling routinely faced by Indigenous and racialized communities.

On Thursday, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police expressed support for the review but defended the value of street checks and questioned the need for regulations. Association president Andy McGrogan said ongoing consultations between police chiefs and Alberta Justice began more than a year ago.

No need for guidelines: police chief

"We don't have to set up another set of regulations and guidelines," said McGrogan, who is also the police chief in Medicine Hat.

He noted there are already rules under the Privacy Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other established by Supreme Court rulings.

"We are respectful and there is actually a complaint process," McGrogan said.

McGrogan said police should not be restricted from asking what someone is doing in a suspicious area of town at a suspicious time of night.

Such activities are what "every normal law abiding citizen in this province would expect us to do to keep them safe," he said.

"If we do it respectfully and with dignity to all, and we gather that information for the the purpose that we've collected it, we're dumbfounded to understand what the issues are and why we need more rules around that," said McGrogan.

If Alberta does eventually move ahead with regulations, it will be the second province to do so. Earlier this year, Ontario placed new restrictions on carding, but some community groups continue to complain of harassment stemming from the practice.

Justice minister wants 'more consistent approach'

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said the aim is to create an "Alberta-specific model" based on shared values of safe communities and the protection of rights.

"We're hoping to have a standard approach so that the public and the police and everyone understand what is allowed and what isn't allowed," said Ganley. "And we hope that moving forward from there we'll have a more consistent approach and people will have an understanding of what their rights are."

Allen Benson, CEO of Native Counselling Services of Alberta, said there is a need for police training to challenge racist assumptions.

He said the argument that Indigenous women are more frequently stopped for their own protection assumes all Indigenous women are at risk.

More recently, said Benson, his agency's clients have complained of "police harassment" related to street checks, such as invasive questioning and racial comments.

"Mostly it's about, 'Why do we have to tell the police what we're doing? Can't I walk down the street freely? ' " he said.

"The police are there to enforce the law but also to protect the rights of citizens. And if the rights are being violated because the police officer has the assumption of guilt, and that's why they're doing an inquiry on the street, then they're violating the individual's rights."

Benson warned that effective regulations must require robust oversight by a public body and include ramifications for failing to follow the rules. That means there must be "enforcement to ensure that when people's rights are violated that there's some serious action taken," he said.


andrea.huncar@cbc.ca                 @andreahuncar

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